Energy Star Server Spec: Not Ready for Prime Time

Energy Star Server Spec: Not Ready for Prime Time

The EPA Energy Star program will soon release an energy specification for servers, in the same way it has one for PCs, monitors, and other kinds of equipment. But that specification, once finalized in the next month or so, will be of so little use that the EPA would be better off to stop it right now, and get to work on the right one.

Just the fact that there will be an Energy Star spec for servers is good news, of course. In order to get an Energy Star label, servers will have to meet efficiency standards for its power supply, run at a low power rate when idle, have an interface to external power management to harvest information such as inlet air temperature, and come with a standard data sheet detailing a variety of data including power management capabilities and power consumption information.

All that is well and good. But there are some very serious holes with the spec. Here's the biggest one: It won't cover blade servers. Blade servers are the servers of choice for anyone interested in greening their data center, they are the most energy-efficient of servers, and they're the key for virtualization projects. Leaving out blade servers means that the spec will help very few data centers.

There's another problem as well. The spec only gauges the power a server uses when it's idle. But when is a server ever idle? They're designed to be constantly running. When a data center sees that servers aren't being utilized enough, it's time to consolidate. No one wants an idle server.

Measuring the power of a server when idle gives no clue to the power of a server when it's being utilized highly. In fact, some servers are very efficient when running at a high utilization, and less efficient at low or no utilization. So in practice, those servers will be more energy-efficient than servers that use little electricity when idle. So the Energy Star logo for servers can actually lead people to buying less energy-efficient servers.

The upshot? This spec isn't ready for prime time. The EPA should kill it, and quickly get to work on something better.

For more details about the Energy Star spec for servers, visit the EPA's Enterprise Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency Initiatives page.
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